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How to preserve herbs for winter
October 11, 2012 - Kathie Evanoff
No matter how nice it might look or how wonderful the aromas that waft through the air, don’t – I repeat, don’t – hang your herbs in the kitchen.
The air in most kitchens is greasy. No matter how well or how often you clean your kitchen, every time you cook, oils from food and well, oils, are released into the air. These oils cling to walls and if you have herbs hanging, these oils will cling to them as well.
If you are picking the last of the herbs from your garden and you want to preserve them for winter use, there are several ways of drying, dehydrating and storing them.
Not all herbs can be treated the same. Some have tender leaves, such as basil, chives and parsley, and can’t be dried by simply hanging them in bunches or laying them on paper towels.
In those situations, it is best to dry them quickly in a dehydrator, a low temperature oven or even in a microwave. If drying in an oven, set the temperature to 180 or lower if your oven will allow. Lay the washed herbs in a single layer on a sheet pan or cookie sheet and keep a close eye on them. They are ready when they are crisp but not brown. To microwave dry herbs, put washed and trimmed herbs on a paper towel or paper plate, again in a single layer. Microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time until desired crispness is acquired.
Woody herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, oregano and marjoram can be air dried by either hanging in bunches or spread onto wooden frames that have been covered with mesh screening material. Some herb aficionados have been known to dry herbs in the back windows of cars setting in the sun or on top of refrigerators. Fresh herbs can be dried wherever it is warm and dry with good air circulation.
Drying isn’t the only way to preserve herbs. One of my favorite methods is freezing. Lightly pack your herbs in containers or bags and place them in the freezer. When you need a bit for a recipe, take whatever you need from the bag. For successful freezing, after washing the herbs, be sure to dry them completely before packing them for the freezer. I like to freeze them first on a cookie sheet and then drop them individually into my freezer container. It isn’t pleasant to reach in the bag for a spring of thyme to find it has frozen into one giant block. For individual servings, herbs can be chopped and frozen in ice cube trays first. After they are frozen, pop them out of the trays and place them in freezer containers.
Making herb butters is a favorite way to store herbs for the winter. Mix your favorite combinations of herbs with softened butter. Place the mixture on a sheet of plastic wrap and form it into a log. Wrap it tightly and place it in a freezer bag. Seal the bag and when you are ready to use it, simply cut off a slice.
Herbs also can be stored by making herbal vinegars. Simply pack the herbs into a jar and cover with vinegar. Plain white vinegar or white wine vinegar are the best choices as cider vinegar can overpower the flavor of the herbs.
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